Horrors elsewhere is a recurring column that highlights a variety of films from around the world, especially those that don’t originate from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure – a cry is understood, always and everywhere.
Returning to his hometown was not an easy decision for Adam. He managed to stay away for fifteen years. However, he now finds himself in his parents’ old intact house. The reason for Adam’s sudden return ultimately leads him and his older brother Clint deep into the mountain forest. What might have been a heartfelt reunion between estranged siblings quickly turns into something unprecedented. Something abnormal.
In Devil in the dark (also known as The tray), Clint (Dan Payne) did not see his younger brother Adam (Robin dunne) since the death of their father. Seeing him again is a surprise in itself, but what’s even stranger is Adam’s desire to go camping during his time at home. Before the brothers venture into the remote forest of British Columbia, they quickly revert to their old patterns. Adam doesn’t care about other people’s time, and Clint always assumes the worst of Adam. These next six days will not be easy, the brothers quickly realize.
The journey starts off on the wrong foot. Adam not only has a hangover from a night spent drinking with old buddies, Clint has resumed his fault-finding methods. He goes so far as to give Adam the bag of supplies he packed earlier because he “had a hunch” that he would not come prepared. And rather than taking an ATV to the intended set, Clint wants them to do things “the old fashioned way”. The long hike gives the brothers plenty of time to get to know each other again after trying their best to avoid each other for so long.
Now the poster – a young Adam in the foreground and a shaded figure with woods on the misty background – promises a creature characteristic. Is this art misleading? No, not quite. Devil in the dark delivers more or less what it offers, but with a few caveats to be aware of. This sinister, supernatural monster definitely appears in the movie towards the end. Given this, the creature is barely visible to the naked eye. There are abstract parts here and there, but overall the antagonist is an invisible spectacle or entirely shrouded in darkness. A good rule of thumb when making monster movies is less is more; Showing too much will only rob them of their power in the long run. What little monster there is on the screen forces the viewer to use their imagination. At any rate, Devil would have received at least one substantial shot.
What exactly is the monster of Devil in the dark? The antlers are a big clue. Since Larry Fessenden showed his fascination with them, the Wendigo has become more at home in pop culture. Before that, they were mostly vintage pulp and comics. The mythological basis comes from First Nations folklore and is usually a winter spirit born out of greed or other human weaknesses. Fessenden’s interpretation is credited for the still fairly new characteristic traits of elk, but Matt Fox illustrated a similar description in a 1944 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries. Meanwhile, the ashy namesake of Devil in the dark takes the modern Wendigo while looking very human.
Oh too often Bigfoot and Wendigo are confused despite their disparate origins and activities. Movies involving the former tend to be straightforward and reactionary. As Wendigo’s stories almost always delve deeper into the psyche and rip out anything that might attract one of these dreadful abominations. For example, Adam’s resentment towards Clint is transparent. He blames his older brother squarely for his bad relationship with his father Glen (Daniel Cudmore), who had very little in common with his youngest. For this reason, Adam was subconsciously excluded from father-son activities like hunting and other traditionally male hobbies.
Adam’s lifelong burden draws him to the legend Wendigo, which is an uplifting tale to begin with. Those outside of their communities would be more susceptible to Wendigo influence. Hence the reason why the monster targets Adam; he considers himself an outcast in his own family. Much of this separation is voluntary later in life – Adam moved in and left Clint to care for their father – but there’s no denying that Glen made things worse between his sons by favoring Clint. Adam’s bitterness finally gives Wendigo access to his heart and something new to feed on.
Seasoned horror audiences may have a hard time finding overtly creepy material here. Yet what is perhaps more alarming than a Killer Wendigo is the efforts the story will go to to keep the characters from coming to an end. Rather than apologize and move on from their internalized griefs, Adam and Clint act stubbornly. As a result, they are severely punished. This continued sting of regret on both sides goes beyond the abrupt end.
It is first a tense family drama and then a horror film. At the risk of distracting potential new viewers, it’s fair to point out how elusive the elements of horror are here. What little there is is intentionally delayed in an effort to better explain the complicated relationship between the two brothers. The protagonists’ compelling chemistry and performance, along with a trainer-laden atmosphere, all contribute to better creature functionality. Tim brown and Carey dickson approach the concept differently from most, and the success of Devil in the dark does not lie in its macabre parts.